The waitress was in her fifties, dressed in a tight black miniskirt, white blouse, and black high heels. Parts of her spilled out of every item of clothing she wore, making her look like she had swollen mysteriously sometime between dressing and arriving for work. She called me “darlin’ ” each time she filled my coffee cup. She didn’t say anything else, which was fine by me.
I had been sitting at the window for over ninety minutes now, watching the brownstone across the street, and the waitress must have been wondering exactly how long I was planning to stay and if I was ever going to pay the check. Outside, the streets of Astoria buzzed with bargain hunters. I had even read the New York Times from start to finish without nodding off in between as I passed the time waiting for Fat Ollie Watts to emerge from hiding. My patience was wearing thin.
In moments of weakness, I sometimes considered ditching the New York Times on weekdays and limiting my purchase to the Sunday edition, when I could at least justify buying it on the grounds of bulk. The other option was to begin reading the Post, although then I’d have to start clipping coupons and walking to the store in my bedroom slippers.
Maybe in reacting so badly to the Times that morning I was simply killing the messenger. It had been announced that Hansel McGee, a state Supreme Court judge and, according to some, one of the worst judges in New York, was retiring in December and might be nominated to the board of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation.
Even seeing McGee’s name in print made me ill. In the 1980s, he had presided over the case of a woman who had been raped when she was nine years old by a fifty-four-year-old man named James Johnson, an attendant in Pelham Bay Park who had convictions for robbery, assault, and rape.
McGee overturned a jury award to the woman of $3.5 million with the following words: “An innocent child was heinously raped for no reason at all; yet that is one of the risks of living in a modern society.” At the time, his judgment had seemed callous and an absurd justification for overturning the ruling. Now, seeing his name before me again after what had happened to my family, his views seemed so much more abhorrent, a symptom of the collapse of goodness in the face of evil.
Erasing McGee from my mind, I folded the newspaper neatly, tapped a number on my cell phone, and turned my eyes to an upper window of the slightly run-down apartment building opposite. The phone was picked up after three rings and a woman’s voice whispered a cautious hello. It had the sound of cigarettes and booze to it, like a bar door scraping across a dusty floor.
“Tell your fat asshole boyfriend that I’m on my way to pick him up and he’d better not make me chase him,” I told her. “I’m real tired and I don’t plan on running around in this heat.” Succinct, that was me. I hung up, left five dollars on the table, and stepped out onto the street to wait for Fat Ollie Watts to panic.
The city was in the middle of a hot, humid summer spell, which was due to end the following day with the arrival of thunderstorms and rain. Currently, it was hot enough to allow for T-shirts, chinos, and overpriced sunglasses, or, if you were unlucky enough to be holding down a responsible job, hot enough to make you sweat like a pig under your suit as soon as you left the a/c behind. There wasn’t even a gust of wind to rearrange the heat.
Two days earlier, a solitary desk fan had struggled to make an impact on the sA stunner...as riveting and chilling as The Silence of the Lambs.